Can you pass the urban legend test? Are there really alligators in the New York sewers? Separating fact from fiction isn't always easy

Pop culture

October 17, 1999|By DALLAS MORNING NEWS

Nobody has ever awakened in a hotel bathtub, packed in ice, after his kidneys were removed by organ thieves. There is no $250 Neiman Marcus cookie recipe. Libraries do not sink from the weight of all those books.

Yet we believe anyway, employing the philosophy of Never Check a Good Story. And even if they're wrong, these tall tales have a properly academic name to make them sound more respectable: urban legends.

In a new book, "Too Good to Be True: The Colossal Book of Urban Legends," author Jan Harold Brunvard amasses many of the best and dissects how they have become accepted in popular culture.

Here are some great stories to spread at the water cooler or by e-mail. Before you do, though, see if you can spot the ones that are true.

1. A fellow preparing to take his girlfriend away for the weekend stops at a pharmacy to buy condoms, telling the pharmacist he's going to "get lucky." He goes to pick her up, and the pharmacist turns out to be her father.

2. On Thanksgiving, a spaced-out, hippie baby-sitter mistakenly roasts the baby instead of the turkey.

3. Pet baby alligators that are flushed down toilets grow to be monster alligators in the sewers.

4. A lady puts her wet cat in the microwave to dry. The cat explodes.

5. Somebody pours gasoline in the toilet and somebody else who's unaware of that sits down and lights a cigarette. The toilet explodes.

6. Pilots occasionally go for a walk and lock themselves out of the cockpit.

7. Some Lego toy kits include a plastic homeless person to play with.

8. A kid who misses a basketball shot on the "Bozo the Clown" show utters a four-letter word, is admonished by Bozo and says "Cram it, clown!" on live TV.

9. A welder inadvertently produces an electric arc, which bonds his contact lenses to his corneas. When he takes out the contacts later, he's blinded.

10. If you send your Cabbage Patch doll back to the manufacturer for repairs but it's too badly damaged, they'll send you a death certificate.

How many of the urban legends did you guess were true? That's how many you got wrong. Here are the explanations:

1. This appeared in a 1994 Ann Landers column, but she later admitted it was a hoax.

2. Didn't happen, but an anti-drug lecturer told it anyway on the "McNeil/Lehrer NewsHour" in 1989.

3. Alligators have been found in sewers, but none were proved to have grown up there. As the New York Times once explained, they would drown in heavy rain and most of the available food is already "pre-digested."

4. Variations of this have made it into newspapers around the world and a rap song by Arsenio Hall, but it apparently never happened.

5. There are lots of versions of this, two of which appeared in Motorcyclist magazine. One such story started in an Israeli newspaper and spread around the world until the newspaper retracted it.

6. This legend has appeared from Africa to China, never substantiated.

7. In shooting down this rumor, a Lego spokesman said, "Only smiling, happy people live in Legoland."

8. People claim to have seen this, but there are many variations, all denied by Bozo officials. No tape exists to substantiate it.

9. Besides being icky, it's not true. The American Academy of Ophthalmology traced the stories to 1967 and debunked them.

10. "Has that story surfaced again?" a company spokesman told a newspaper in 1984. "I thought we buried it."

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